© Ella Ling

Miami 2012 - Maria Sharapova 5

Tennis's Olympic power struggle


There have been lots of rumblings behind the scenes on the tennis tours this week, from the movement of a number of tournaments to a (further) cooling of relations between the Women’s Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation.

Since the WTA controls the women’s tour and the ITF runs the four grand slams, the Davis Cup and Fed Cup and tennis in the Olympic Games, there is always tension between the two. The same applies on the men’s side with the ATP.

But reports this week suggested that the entente is definitely not cordiale right now, thanks to the ITF’s decision to change its eligibility rules for the 2016 Olympics, doubling the number of ties they must make themselves available for in the four-year period leading up to 2016 itself. The ITF told the Tennis Space that, contrary to reports it had made the changes without consulting the players, it had actually held a number of meetings with players on the issue. But it is understood that the WTA were told nothing would be done without final consultation, only to learn, last month in Miami, that the changes had already taken place.

Now it’s plain that the reason the ITF is doing this is because they want more players, especially top players, to play Fed Cup (and Davis Cup, since this applies to both), in future. And that’s hardly a surprise as they are the ITF’s flagship events. The WTA reportedly remains committed to the Fed Cup but believes the format of the competition needs to change in order to keep it relevant, while the long-term health of the players is also a concern.

Clearing three weeks in the calendar for it, with no tournaments allowed to go up against it, is also an issue. The ATP, for its part, are probably enjoying taking the WTA the lead on this one, with Davis Cup reform, at least at some stage, also on its agenda.

It should be noted that players to do not have to actually compete in four ties over that period (with at least one of them being in 2015 or 2016) to be eligible. They only have to make themselves available for selection for four ties. Now of course, for the very best players, that is likely to mean they will have to play as their nations will obviously want to pick them, but there is no obligation for those players (think Nicolas Almagro, for Spain, maybe Jeremy Chardy, for France or any number of Americans) who are not going to make the team, to actually play.

Also, the ITF says the rules are slightly different for teams (like Britain) who are in regional qualifying of the Fed Cup and who could theoretically play just in one round of the competition every year. They will only have to make themselves available for three rounds.

When it comes to internal politics, the ITF and WTA have plenty of skeletons in their closets and it is, quite simply, a power struggle. But unless the ITF shows a willingness to at least entertain the possibility of change, the WTA appears ready to stand strong. Whether it would be willing to risk its top players missing the 2016 Olympics as a result is open to debate (although it has happened in the past) and it would be no surprise should the channels of communication be reopened sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, word that Halle could become a mixed event in the not too distant future. The women’s tour have been pushing for as many combined events as possible, even if there is an argument to be said that their players get less media coverage as a result, at least until the later rounds or if something truly dramatic happens.

But the intriguing thing about all this is that it might increase Halle’s chances of being upgraded to a 500 status. Should that happen, you can bet your bottom dollar that Queen’s would want the same. A lot goes into making those decisions but the fields they attract would certainly warrant it, at least.